This post is a basic guideline to assist you in choosing what hardware to buy. By no means is this post meant to replace the recommendations section, as you will find out when reading this
. Please keep in mind what you will be using this computer for as well. Posting that when asking for additional advice can save you a lot of money, and can also help from wasting money on a part that would not benefit you.
Computer hardware is evolving on a daily basis. Knowing what to get can be quite daunting, hence this forum for help! There are some important things to consider when setting a budget. How stable do you want your system to be?
Many of us try to cut costs down and all too often; we suffer from reboots, crashes, and dead hardware. There are three very important areas of a computer that you never want to skimp on when purchasing: the power supply, the memory, and motherboard. And to an extent, in that order.
This will go over some basic guidelines that you can look for.
- Sadly this is usually the component that's given the least amount of consideration in a computer, although it is one of the most important. A few years back, most 300W power supplies would work fine for nearly any computer you built. Today's CPU's rely on the 12 volt rail, whereas older ones relied on the 5 volt rail.
Don't just look at the total wattage! Look at the amps on the individual channels! As of this writing, it's recommended to look for a PSU that has over 22 amps on the 12V rail. Less than a year ago, most were saying 18A or less. That's roughly 50 more watts alone! As processors get faster, and video cards get more powerful, and we add more components, the more power we'll need.
Some good brands to look for are: PC Power and Cooling
, and Tagan
. There are many other good brands out there, but these are about the highest quality you can get.
- This is another area that causes many headaches. Many of us think, "Memory is memory" and are greatly mistaken. You have essentially 3 types: Value, regular, and performance. Regular memory is best for about 98% of us; people who will not overclock, and people who aren't looking for the fastest possible, but want a stable system. Value memory is designed to be cheap. It's usually made of chips that weren't good enough quality to make it for the regular memory. Although some people have had it work good, this is the type that causes the most problems that range from lock ups, crashes, non-booting computers. If you can afford to get regular line memory, do it. Don't get value just because it's cheaper. I'd only say get it if you just cannot afford better.
Performance memory is designed for the person who wants the absolute fastest. It's the only choice for overclockers. Sometimes this memory will go to speeds way beyond its designation.
There is only ONE brand of memory that I'll ALWAYS recommend: Crucial
. It's the guaranteed-to-work-in-any-system memory. If your board doesn't boot with this, you have a bad board. There are many types of memory out, and some brands can be as good as and even better than Crucial. But the types change often. If you want performance memory, research a lot, and ask around.
- This is the tricky part. Granted, you want a board that will work with the CPU you have in mind, so you want to get the right socket type for your CPU. But even more important is the chipset. It's the traffic cop of the busiest intersection in the world.
The thing about motherboards is they are constantly evolving and changing. Even quality from year to year can change dramatically. So don't always assume that Brand A is great because older ones were. It's best to look past the marketing hype and look at the features you will actually use. Look for issues that might be of concern to you. Usually cheaper motherboards will have fewer features, but some are also lesser quality.
Research, patience, and asking a LOT of questions can pay off here. Also check out the manufacturer's site and look for quality and support cues. Do they make it easy to get service? Are the BIOS updates explained? Are there too many indicating poor product design? Some BIOS updates are ok, like 4 or 5. If you see just 1 or 2 (if an older board), or 15 then it's time to worry.
- Here's a subject, which gets the biggest debates among gamers. Prices also range very widely, from under $30 to over $500! It all depends on what your uses are. If you won't be running any graphic intensive applications, you don't need the top of the line card; a $50 model can get the job done ok. If you might use it for some old games, then a mid level card might be in order. I'm not going to go into brands or models. When looking for a card, you will get a LOT of opinionated answers. Sometimes, the top of the line isn't the best value; sometimes its little brother gives you 98% of the performance for 20% (100 dollars or more!) less price.
- There are many good brands, and the technology among them is very similar. Currently there are 2 types for home computers: IDE and SATA. Eventually SATA will be the big performance hard drive for computers. As of this time, there really isn't an advantage except the ones that have a higher rotation speed.
Many people buy 2 HD's and put them in RAID0 for more performance, but many studies have proved that you don't get more unfortunately. If you want 2 hard drives, use one as a storage or back up drive.
- CD, CD/RW, DVD, DVD+/-RW, etc... For burners, look for larger buffers and buffer under run technology. For players, the faster the speed the sooner the data gets to your computer. There are many brands and quality does vary a little bit. There aren't too many feature differences either. A couple quick questions will work usually.
- There are too many brands to list! Quality varies from steel to aluminum to acrylic. My recommendations are to look for one that has good airflow, and is easy to work on. If it comes with a power supply (fewer and fewer are these days thankfully!) make sure to get the specs (see above) and know what you're getting is worth it.
All other peripherals
- This includes sound cards, mice, keyboards, floppies, external drives, monitors, etc... This has lots of personal preferences, and if this is where money can be saved vs. saving on memory. I'd rather get a $20 mouse and put the extra $40 into memory vs. putting that money into a $60 one.
Did I forget the CPU?
Nope! Most people have preferences to a brand for some reason or other, and I'm not going to start recommending a brand for many of these reasons. However, there are some basic guidelines that do apply to ANY CPU. Speed- Only judge performance of a CPU's speed when you are comparing the same line; an AMD Sempron's performance rating does not correspond to the AMD XP or AMD 64's performance rating. This also goes true when comparing different manufacturers.
In general, the larger the cache and the higher clock among a specific line means more performance. CPU's will be going through a lot of changes in the next year or two, so asking what's the best for your specific needs is in order.